NORMAL – Kathleen Lorenz shared a concern with fellow Normal Council members during the governing body’s regular session on July 20, done remotely, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her concern centered on what she said she has observed as what she saw as “troubling behaviors” during Council sessions. She said what she was about to present to Council members has been bothering her for about the past 15 months.

She said her criticism was not being levied at any fellow Council members’ behavior, but that is was being levied how she believed the Council comprised of 4 men and 3 women could work better together.

Her first concern was levied at Council Member Stan Nord related to how she has observed Nord seeming to challenge how work done by Town staff gets done. She said how Nord phrases questions he puts to fellow Council members during Council meetings is what she found concerning. Nord is one of two first-time Council members elected in April of 2019. Karyn Smith is the other newcomer to the Council.

In Nord’s questions, Lorenz said she hears “a basic mistrust of Town staff that makes up our local government.” She cited that when Nord makes an inquiry about an issue, his question checking to see if there might be a policy on what he is referring to comes with what she identified as an “us versus them mentality.” She explained to Nord that such attitudes “breeds a sense of mistrust. That includes a mistrust in government, a mistrust in all of us, a mistrust in the staff.”

She cited Nord will ask, depending on a particular subject, “Don’t we have a policy on this?” She pivoted by reminding the Council as a whole “we are all on the same team. We all have the word Normal in our title somewhere – Normal City Manager, Normal Town Council person, Normal Police Chief, Normal Water Department. We’re all on the same team.”

Directly, to Nord, she explained that when he asks if there is not a policy related to a certain matter, it comes across as though he doubts what the Town Staff are doing concerning certain matters.

“We should challenge each other to do better, but we should do it with a level of respect,” she said. “Tearing one person down tears all of us down, and it also tears the whole team down.”

She added she felt the Council has “begun to vacillate between some form of flight or fight,” explaining that on some issues, when there are disagreements among Council members, others, she said, stay away and “wait for it to get over, and sit idly by and don’t say anything.” But she added, there will be Council members who will respond to such moments and either defend or refute what has been said. If they aren’t doing one of the other, she said, Council members become observers during those moments.

Lorenz did list four things she said she would like to see the Council work on to improve relations within the group. The four items are: “To hold ourselves to a standard of trust in each other and in Town Staff,” she said; Work to find common ground, which would include working toward 7-0 votes on issues; Not vote in dissention just to be disagreeable; and Avoid casting abstention votes.

On the latter item, Lorenz said sometimes a vote comes down “to being between bad and awful because there is no easy answer, but to abstain shirks that responsibility.”

The fourth item Lorenz recommended was for Council members to be held accountable for watching conduct – to call out tones of mistrust; and calling out points of order when needed.

Trying to meet those challenges, Lorenz said, “will make every first and third Monday a whole lot more productive and a whole lot more valuable. It’s what our taxpayers expect and deserve.”

Reached Sunday for comment, Nord said, “My position and role is to oversee government, which by default means you have to question government.” He cited Dixon, Illinois where a lack of council oversight led to that community’s comptroller being able to embezzle nearly $53 million eight years ago.

“This is the way the whole system was built, with checks and balances,” Nord said.

Concerning what Lorenz sees as mistrust in Town staff on Nord’s part, Nord said, “She may interpret it that way, but I see it as my asking a question, and if I don’t get answers to the question, then, I keep asking ‘til I get the answers.”

Nord said when he has questions, the only person he asks questions of is City Manager Pam Reece, who is, in effect, the only employee the Council has reporting to them.

Lorenz has been bothered by the fact Nord has been asking Town Staff since the national pandemic started how many at-home movies have been sold, allowing residents to watch films at home they would otherwise go see at the Normal Theater were it possible. The Town is selling viewings of films for $12 each. Nord said the Town spent slightly over $5,000 to advertise the films, and he has inquired of Town staff how many have been purchased, and how much money has the Town taken in as a result.

Nord said he last received an update on how much the Town has taken in from that program about a month and a half ago but no further updates since. “When I find that out, I can determine whether that’s a good value,” Nord said. “Without that information, I don’t know if what was spent was a good value.”

Of Lorenz’s four suggestions she said would improve how the Council gets along, Nord said he want to see Council negotiate to arrive at 7-0 votes. “If it’s just an ultimatum, take it or leave it, then that’s going to be a challenge.” He cited an omnibus item from that meeting’s agenda approving a billing service agreement between the Town and Michigan-based AccuMed Billing, Inc. for ambulance billing services for the Town.

Council members voted 6-1 in favor of the resolution with Nord opposing. He said he would have preferred to have had additional information before deciding. “Otherwise, on votes like that, I’m being asked to take it or leave it,” Nord said. He said he wished another company had put it a competitive bid in this case.

“Normal is a diverse community,” Nord said. “We’re not always going to have everybody on the same page for everything. So, I don’t necessary think it’s bad that you’ve got someone presenting an opposing view. Seven and 0 looks like rubber stamp voting, or there’s some party not being represented.”

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 26th, 2020 at 10:24 pm and is filed under Normal Town Council, The Normalite. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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